SHENZHEN, China – Da Fen Village, where replicas of Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Monet are mass-produced by Chinese artists and art students, represents everything that gives China a bad name: Knockoff nation.
But the oil-painting village, consisting of some 1,100 galleries with more than 8,000 artists, and suppliers /makers of brushes, paints, canvases and frames, located not far from Shenzhen, also illustrates the vitality of China.
The prolific copycats of Da Fen have come to an instinctive understanding of a larger “ecosystem,” similar to the high-tech industry in Shenzhen (and the Pearl River Delta), which thrives and prospers by building Android-based smartphones and tablets.
Da Fen is a microcosm of China today – both good and bad.
I recently visited Da Fen, an extraordinary experience. I’ve never seen so many cheap imitations of great Western art (and copies of famous Chinese art) gathered in one place. The paintings – some done in slightly different colors from the originals – were proudly hung on floor-to-ceilings walls. Each gallery, housed in a tall pencil building, displayed a vast number of knockoffs on multiple floors.
A woman working at a gallery kindly showed me around floor by floor, switched on the electricity every time when we entered a new floor, making sure the faux art appeared in the best possible light. She was diligent and friendly.
But when I wanted to take snapshot of an entire wall of phony Rembrandts, my hostess drew the line. She sternly warned me that photography in her gallery is absolutely forbidden.
Wait. You sell fake art produced by artists who copied them from books. But I am not allowed to take a picture of your fake art?
One of the side streets inside Da Fen Village